You may be a soldier or airman, trained to do battle, but it can still be tough to say the word “breast” to your supervisor, particularly if your supervisor is male. But if you are going to make this work for you, then you will need to say it at least once. You may get lucky and have a very supportive supervisor who is familiar with the breastfeeding policy of your service, has worked with other females in your command, and all you need to do is work out your break times. Or you may be the first woman at your command to have a baby and will be paving the way. You’ll need to convince your supervisor that it is in her or his best interests (and that of the military) to give you the time and place to pump. Either way the tips that follow should help to make this a little easier for you; and you can go in knowing that by continuing to breastfeed after your return to duty will save you time, money, and contribute to a healthier workforce and increased mission readiness!
Preparation is Key
As always, preparation is your friend. The first and most important item of business to take care of, preferably before your baby is born, is to determine your work environment, the facilities available to you and your schedule. Do you have a separate room that is unused at your workplace, such as a supply room? Or will you be in field conditions in a tent, on a flight line, or at a medical facility? Do you have the option of on-site daycare where you can go to your baby during your lunch break? What is your typical duty day like and when would there be an optimal time to schedule pumping breaks? Have the answers to these questions ready to go BEFORE you talk to your supervisor and it will go a lot smoother for you.
Speaking to Your Supervisor
While pregnant, schedule a time to speak with your direct supervisor in your chain of command. You need to be proactive about your need to pump, and in this case, it is better to ask permission beforehand than to hope for the best when you return to duty. Let your supervisor know that you plan to continue breastfeeding when you return from convalescent leave and that you will need a clean, private area and some flexibility in your work schedule to pump (lunch and two 15-20 minute breaks). If you feel uncomfortable speaking with your supervisor, you may request that another female be present with you. You may work in a field that is mostly male, don’t let any feelings of embarrassment or shyness deter you from making the best choice for your baby. Communication is essential! No one likes to be surprised, and you can’t assume that your supervisor is thinking about how you are going to feed your baby.
Here are some strategies to use to gain support for breastfeeding from your supervisor. Following these indicates what you are willing to do to gain permission/support to breastfeed your baby upon return to duty.
- Communicate with your supervisor before the birth to establish a working plan to support breastfeeding on return to work.
- Consult Occupational Health about workplace hazards as part of the breastfeeding plan (if needed).
- Develop and have approved a written, proposed plan that includes:
- 1) A work schedule that allows for PT time, lunch and a projected series of breaks to pump, illustrating the ability to complete assigned tasks and successfully breastfeed.
- 2) A plan that includes the availability of a private space such as an office, partitioned workspace, or small room with electrical outlet and adequate space to sit and pump.
- Not a restroom
- Near running water
- Ability to lock the door
- 3) A back up plan for breastfeeding support in case of long duty days, emergencies, watch standing or unusual situations.
- 4) A process for the Soldier to safely store breast milk and to demonstrate that the infant has adapted to feeding from an alternative source (i.e., nipple feeding or alternate feeding methods).
- Your POC information.
The following is a link to downloadable sample memo that you can use to create your own “Breastfeeding Support Plan” to give to your supervisor.
Bring in a copy of your services’ policy regarding breastfeeding (see below) along with the plan you created. You can also ask your child’s healthcare provider for a note stating that breastfeeding and breastmilk expression must take place for your child’s health. You might consider bringing in an article or two regarding the benefits of breastfeeding (AAP Statement on Breastfeeding and Human Milk, The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding) and a copy of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots as well.
Perhaps the most important information to know is your service’s policy on breastfeeding. With this information, you can speak with your supervisor to formulate your plans for continuing to breastfeed and/or express breastmilk after your return to full duty. These policies provide you with legal justification for making a request to breastfeed or express your milk while at work, while also allowing your supervisor to cite regulations when authorizing time for breastfeeding. Remind your supervisor that DOD Directive 1010.10 Health Promotion and Disease states that the Department of Defense and all of its employees must maintain military readiness by implementing and adhering to the goals of Healthy People 2010. One of those goals is exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life for the health of both the mother and baby.
The policies vary widely between the services, here is a chart that outlines the differences– Links to full versions of the various policies are found on the Military Policies page.
Arguments for Breastfeeding in the Military
Need some material for why supporting breastfeeding in the military benefits you and your command?
- Parental absenteeism from the workplace is 3 times higher for formula fed infants than for breastfed infants – this impacts Mission Readiness
- Mothers who are breastfeeding have a quicker uterine recovery and return to pre-pregnant weight quicker – this impacts Mission Readiness
- Workplaces that provide lactation support experience less turnover and lower losses of highly skilled and trained personnel – this impacts Mission Readiness and Retention
- Offering lactation support increases personnel loyalty, morale and satisfaction – this impacts Retention
- Economic benefits for the DoD exist since breastfed babies are half as likely to get sick their first year – reducing health care costs.
- Direct economic savings for military personnel by not purchasing infant formula
Current National & State Law, Policy and Programs
- Federal policy ensures a woman’s right to breastfeed her child on federal property and encourages workplace lactation support programs and flexible work schedules options
- State laws generally say that women must be given reasonable, unpaid break time to breastfeed.
- Workplace lactation support programs are found at National Security Agency, Pentagon, Office Personal Management, National Institutes of Health, and many U.S. government agency departments.
- US Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2020 goal is to increase to 81% the proportion of mothers whom breastfed their babies in the early postpartum period and to 65% the proportion who continue breastfeeding until their babies are 6 months of age.
- American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed for the first twelve months, and encourages employers to provide facilities and adequate time in the workplace for breast pumping.
- American Academy of Family Physicians recommends military mothers breastfeed for the first twelve months and encourages Family physicians to be actively involved in working with the military population to educate commanders, supervisors, and peers about the benefits of breastfeeding and how to support new mothers.
- American Dietetic Association’s position is that exclusive breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition and health protection for the first 6 months of life, and breastfeeding with complementary foods for at least 12 months is the ideal feeding pattern for infants.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports breastfeeding in Guidelines for Perinatal Care.